Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pep Talk for the School Year #1 or There Comes a Time in Any Adventure…

My husband’s parents took the whole gang on a summer vacation in June. We rented a house at Hume Lake, near Sequoia National Park, and made a couple of day trips into the Park to see the big trees, take some pictures, and buy souvenirs. One of the main tourist stops in the Park is Moro Rock, a massive jut of granite affording 365° views of the Sierras, including the Great Western Divide. The 797-foot-long stairway to the top of the rock was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is made up of about 400 steps, most of which are hewn into the granite. Frankly, I am surprised the stairway is still in use. It absolutely fails the most basic of contemporary safety standards. The narrow stairs cut a jagged, often exposed route up to the breath-taking viewing area at the top, requiring a constant negotiation with tourists coming down and those on their way up whose wobbly knees and zealous imaginations have paralyzed their progress.

About three-quarters of the way to the top, Sis began having second thoughts. I don’t know how much of it was her own fear, how much was her mother’s tightening squeeze around her left hand, and how much was the foreign tourists, clinging to the inside edge of the staircase, presumably beseeching their God in languages unknown. But she decided she was done.

And so we had the “There Comes a Time in Every Adventure When It Doesn’t Feel Fun Anymore” talk. We talked about how – real danger aside – we find a way to keep going when we feel scared, tired and overwhelmed (and I had a conversation with myself in another part of my brain about how she was probably going to fall, and I was going to be responsible and wrecked forever). She pushed back and so I moved into Phase Two, where I promised her the satisfaction and self-esteem of a challenge met. She let me know she was sure she would not feel proud of herself, but eventually she did keep walking. And we made it to the top. It was windy, exposed, amazing. And she confirmed her un-proudness. I pretended not to hear and took pictures.

We had a version of the same talk later that week while kayaking, wet and snack-less, into a headwind. And then again during Hour Twenty-Something of the trip home from Venezuela. And now I am having it with myself, bracing for the end of summer. There will come a time in the semester when it stops being fun, and I will have to keep moving forward. And really, the end goal doesn’t promise to be a world-class vista or an ice cream cone on the beach of an alpine lake, or a stamp in my passport. The end goal will be the simple sweetness of making it through.

I was on the rowing team in high school and college, and in the Spring we would race on a 2000-meter course. The time it takes an 8-person shell to race 2000m varies with gender, conditions, equipment (Canadian National Team posted a time of 5:19.35 in Switzerland earlier this year, I rarely saw the inside of 7:00.00 in my day). When rowing in an 8-person shell, it’s not cool to look around. And you are facing backwards. So when you are rowing, you have to rely on the coxswain to keep you informed of your progress and the progress of your competitors. The only tangible measures of distance are the giant colored buoys at each 500m mark. Because of the buoys, most crews break up their race plan into 500m segments. And the third 500m stretch is, arguably, the worst. You are more than halfway. You are not to the sprint yet, just dead-dog tired with lactic acid burning through quad muscles like a colony of fire ants. So, what kinds of things go into the race plan for the third 500m? I don’t remember. The thousands of third 500s that marked my seven years of rowing are forgotten. And today I find that interesting. I am guessing there were “Power 20s” to think about this and that, to get our heads right, to remember breathing. But none of it is memorable. I guess this means I must have spent all those third 500m stretches locked down in the 20-stroke chunks of focus that made it manageable. Because a third 500 left all alone without encouragement, and stair-stepping goals, would have been disastrous. My mind would have wandered to my body and I would have stopped rowing, and cried with fatigue and shame.

School will start again in a few weeks. At first it will be all pink erasers and the delicious smell of new pencils. Lunch boxes. Old friends. Soccer season. But somewhere along the way, in the third 500 of the Fall, I am going to get tired, and then I will want to sit in protest on the sidewalk and think only of myself, and let everyone know that I am no longer having fun.

(Probably like this. Someone the other day pointed out that the eldest learned this face from her mother.)

So, while it is still Popsicle Season, I say to myself, remember. Just keep walking. And breathing. And collecting manna each morning.

When I started school two years ago I put a verse (in fancy old language) and a quote on the bathroom mirror. Now the edges are curled, and some of the text has been altered by toothpaste, but it is still speaking to me, still seems worth sharing:

“Be strong and our good courage; be not afraid, neither by thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9

“Watch your way, then, as a cautious traveler, and don’t be gazing at the mountain or river in the distance and saying, ‘How shall I ever got other them?’ Instead, keep to the present little inch that is before you, and accomplish that in the little moment that belongs to it. The mountain and the river can only be passed the same way. When you come to them, you will come to the light and the strength that belong to them.” M.A. Kelty

The present little inch. And nothing more.


  1. I needed this today in the middle of my boxes and longing for a home. I have been reciting this verse daily to my son to help ease his transition, but I forgot to hold onto its truth when the business of my day became unfun. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Remember when Joel said to us, "You will survive this and everyone will say, 'That must have been God because there is no other way they could have made it.'" Sorry your days are becoming unfun. You don't like packing up socks and spoons and random important papers while the children cry in the background? Interesting. :)

    You are doing great. Can't wait to see you.